Howard questions Magic plan
BOSTON -- Just when the Orlando Magic, victims of a Game 4 dagger of a shot by Glen "Big Baby" Davis, thought they couldn't feel any worse, along came a fourth-quarter collapse in Tuesday's Game 5 that could haunt them well into the offseason.
And as it turns out, the unsightly and uncomfortable fourth-quarter faltering paled in comparison to Magic star center Dwight Howard's meltdown after the game.
Howard, Orlando's franchise player, openly questioned head coach Stan Van Gundy's refusal to get him more shots and wondered about some curious substitution patterns in Orlando's 92-88 loss to the Celtics Tuesday night.
"Offensively I have to get the ball," Howard said candidly. "I don't think you are going to win a lot of games when your post player only gets 10 shots. It's tough to get yourself going and get a lot of touches without a lot of shots. We have to do a better job with that."
Seemingly poised to take another lead in the series, just as they were two days earlier before Davis drilled a buzzer-beater, the Magic came apart late and looked very much like easy roadkill for the defending champions.
Orlando blew a lead that swelled to as much as 14 points in the fourth quarter and remarkably kicked away a 10-point lead with 5:39 to play. A game dominated all night by the Magic turned when Orlando missed its last seven field goal attempts and allowed Boston to outscore it 17-3 down the stretch.
Howard, Orlando's leading scorer during the regular season, believes a big reason behind the collapse was his lack of involvement in the offense. He got just 10 field goal attempts all night and made three dunks, a layup, a hook and two free throws for 12 points.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Howard had just 22 touches on the offensive end of the floor all game. He touched the ball on the offensive end just three times in the fourth period, and only one time in the final 6:50 of the game. That was a harmless entry pass with 5.9 seconds remaining, and Howard was intentionally fouled.
Van Gundy openly blamed himself for Sunday's Game 4 loss for the defensive alignment that he drew up. He didn't have to blame himself on Tuesday because others did it for him.
"I'm not going to get up here and bash or say anything about what should happen, but I will say it's tough to win when all season long you play inside-out and you trust one of the people who got you off to a good season," Howard said. "I think I'm capable of scoring in the post, but I don't think 10 shots is enough.
"You've got a dominant player, let him be dominant."
Howard has been a staunch supporter of Van Gundy most of this season, even saying this past weekend that he asked the coach to point out his flaws in order to make him a better player. The one flare-up between the coach and player came in February 2008, when Van Gundy benched Howard for complaining about his lack of shot attempts instead of focusing on defense.
Howard, who has had trouble getting the ball and getting deep position in this series against Celtics defensive ace Kendrick Perkins, was used primarily as a screener and a decoy Tuesday. Instead, Rashard Lewis (19 points), Hedo Turkoglu (18 points, seven assists) and Rafer Alston (16 points) carved up the Boston defense with hard drives to the hoop.
That plan of attack worked most of the game as the Magic grabbed the lead in the first period and led by double digits most of the game. But Howard believes the Magic missed a major opportunity to break the game open in the second half because of some of Van Gundy's substitutions.
2009 NBA Playoffs
Want an in-depth look at the Celtics-Magic series? Check out all the stats, analysis and opinion here:• Celtics-Magic page
Howard picked up his second and third fouls 24 seconds apart early in the third period. And when the three-time All-Star center was whistled for a defensive three-seconds call, Howard was benched for the final 7:18 of the third quarter.
"Our coach has to recognize that when he has a certain group out there and they are getting the job done we have to leave those guys on the floor," said Howard, who had 17 rebounds and converted two of his offensive rebounds into baskets. "We're going to make mistakes, but I think you have to go with what works."
Remarkably, even as Lewis, Turkoglu and Alston were missing shots down the stretch, the Magic never went inside to their 6-foot-11, 268-pound center. Van Gundy was upset that fouls weren't called when Turkoglu and Alston drove to the rim and on a 24-second violation that was overturned and gave the Celtics the ball back with 36 seconds to play. And he was upset that his players didn't follow his orders.
"I thought that we were trying to run out the clock," Van Gundy said. "We would not push the ball up the floor. Four minutes ... that's forever in a NBA game. I kept telling them that we wanted to push the ball. But we didn't, we walked it up."
The Magic must now win in Orlando on Thursday to force a possible Game 7 on Sunday back in Boston. That will happen only with an attitude change, Howard stressed.
"When you want something you have to go and get it," Howard said. "At the end of the game, collectively those guys wanted it more than we did and that's how it got cut back from a big lead. As a team we have to stop hanging our heads and stop getting frustrated when things don't go our way. Everybody on our team is falling into that category and we tend to get frustrated. If we want to win this series we can't do that."
John Denton is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and covers the Orlando Magic for Florida Today.